21 Nevrine, continued
“Enough,” the King said. “Commander General, Sesskia has my full confidence. You will work together to make our army stronger so it can defend this city. Sesskia, how are the mages coming along?”
“Well enough, Honored,” I said. “They’re all learning offensive magics to turn against the enemy.”
“Good, good,” the King said. “I’m confident you’re all doing your best. We will come to observe your progress tomorrow morning.”
My throat tried to close up. “Tomorrow morning, Honored?” I said.
“Unless that’s a problem,” the King said, with an expression that told me it had better not be a problem.
“Of course not,” I said. “We’ll be looking forward to your visit.” I’m still not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow morning. After I met with King and Chamber, and had that long conversation with Tarallan, I went back and got everyone working on flashy pouvrin that would satisfy the King’s need to see something that would convince him he would be safe. But that was later. At that moment, I just stood there, wondering what else they wanted of me and why they’d needed to call a special meeting just for a status report. I still don’t know the answer to that.
Crossar said, “General Tarallan, I’ll speak with you and your chiefs of staff at one o’clock this afternoon. Right now we’ll leave you to confer with Thalessi on the role her mages will play in the war. Thank you both for coming.” He stood, followed quickly by the King, who glared at him for once again usurping his role, and he and the rest of the Chamber filed out of the room, leaving me alone with Tarallan.
He’d stood when King and Chamber did, and now was leaning against the table, his palms spread flat in a gesture I’d seen Cederic use a dozen times before. When Cederic does it, it means he’s thinking hard about something. I don’t know what it means to Tarallan. Possibly that he’s trying not to lose his temper, because after several seconds of silence in which I tried to think of ways this conversation might go, he said, “No offense to you, but I really don’t think this is going to work out.”
I pulled out a chair and sat down. “Now, how could that possibly be offensive to me?” I said lightly. “Other than implying I’m too incompetent to be of any use to the military?”
He stood upright and his light-colored eyes came to rest on me. “I don’t know you, I don’t know your capabilities, and I don’t think the army is a place for women,” he said. “I’m telling you this because I think we should be honest with each other.”
“I don’t know if the army is a place for women,” I said, “but you didn’t know Norsselen once, and you grew to trust him. Though I don’t know why, since he’s an incompetent braggart who’s more interested in personal power than in serving his country.”
Tarallan’s eyes widened. “Bold words,” he said. “I trusted him because I saw his magics and they were powerful. I’m not a fool.”
“I don’t think a fool would have the reputation you do,” I said. “And it’s true Norsselen’s magics are powerful. He just didn’t understand how they worked.” I was also thinking If powerful magics are all it takes to gain your trust, General, you and I are going to become best friends.
Tarallan’s eyes narrowed. “And I suppose you do,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “Norsselen developed magic a month ago, during the con—the Event. I developed it over ten years ago.”
“Impossible,” Tarallan said. “Magic was a thing of children’s tales until the Event.”
“No, General, mages were just very good at staying hidden,” I said, “and that makes sense, don’t you think, if they risked death if their power became known?”
“Impossible,” he repeated, but without the vehemence of his earlier statement.
I stood. “General Tarallan, why don’t you come meet your mage auxiliaries?” I said.
It turned out Tarallan had never seen the mages perform, since he’d been in the field almost the whole time since the convergence and Norsselen had told him it would “interfere with their training” if he did. The mages were able to do their performance without Norsselen’s guidance, and looked as impressive as ever. Tarallan watched silently until everyone was finished, then said to me, “I didn’t see anyone make lightning, or create black fog.”
“We don’t know those pouvrin,” I said. “I take it you’ve seen the enemy mages do those magics? They’ll be capable of things we aren’t, but there are things we can do they can’t.” I worked the concealment pouvra and grinned as he struggled to keep me in sight. Astonishingly, he wasn’t fooled for long. I get the feeling he doesn’t miss much in general.
“Now that would be useful,” he said. “How many of you can do it?”
“Just Jeddan and me,” I said. Tarallan eyed Jeddan speculatively.
“You might be too big for infiltration,” he said. “Concealment from sight is one thing, but if you’re too noisy…” He looked at me, and I could see conflicting emotions battling across his face.
“That’s right, General,” I said. “I’d be perfect for whatever it is you have in mind. Especially since it’s not the first time I’ve had to sneak into places. And I’m a woman.”
He shook his head, and smiled. “I’m going to have to adjust my thinking,” he said. “But I don’t need concealment nearly so much as I need something that will remove those enemy mages from combat. Fire is good. Raining stones down on them is good. What range do you have?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You ought to know. That’s important to our strategy, Thalessi,” he said.
“I know, General. Can we walk out here?” I said. We went onto the patio, I shut the door, and said, “I admit I know nothing about military strategy. All I can do is train these mages. If you can tell me what you need them to do, and how you’ll use them, I can—I hope—produce those results for you. But we’ll have to work together.”
Tarallan nodded once, slowly. “You’re not what I expected,” he said, “but I think we can do that.” He extended his hand to me, and I pressed my palm against it. His skin is warm and dry, but not unpleasantly so.
…to be continued